It’s almost December, the Holidays, that magical time of year where you struggle to find an appropriate gift for your sister’s husband or your father-in-law.
I know why you’re here. And if you’re reading this, let’s be honest—it’s not a great sign. Home bar gift guides are usually fairly banal, trying to play to the middle, to pick things that have the broadest possible appeal. Bourbon-flavored toothpicks, for example. This guide is a little different: I’m picking things that appeal to me.
Everything below is either highly functional, or elegant, or both. Some of these are things I already own and love, some are things that I would love, and some are experiences and flavors I’ve had and can vouch for. The goal here is to pick items that the recipient would actually use and enjoy. That’s why this is the one cocktail-based Holiday Gift Guide in the world that doesn’t feature whiskey stones.
The NoMad Cocktail Book by Leo Robitschek
The cocktails that Leo Robitschek and his team at the NoMad Bar put out are, quite simply, as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world. By the time a cocktail makes it onto their menu, it has been battle-tested—broken down and recombined 100 times to be the best possible version of itself—and this James Beard Award-winning book pulls back the heavy curtain so we can see the moving parts. Take note: these are amazing but fairly advanced drinks, so if you find the idea of a sorrel-infused vermouth or a bay leaf-eucalyptus syrup exciting, this is the book for you.
The Spirit Co. Premium Whiskey Advent Calendar
This is the gift you get yourself. Out of everything you can pluck from the tiny window of an Advent Calendar, what could be better than whiskey? Inside this heavily-fenestrated block of cardboard are 24 wax sealed bottles of whiskey, at just over 1 oz. each: small enough to do one-a-day, and large enough to look forward to. You can choose a theme—all Scotch, or all Japanese Whisky, or even something like gin—but I prefer the Premium Whisky version, a tasting flight of two dozen top-shelf selections, a way to experience some truly profound whiskies without needing to commit to a whole bottle.
Schott Zwiesel Tritan Aberdeen Old Fashioned Cocktail Glasses
A great whiskey glass has to be a lot of things. It can’t be too big, lest your spirit look like a sad little puddle, nor can it be too small, where it would feel like a shot. The design should be one of understated refinement, neither too ornate for a Tuesday sipper nor too basic for a special occasion. It should also be heavy, feel significant in the hand. And for all these reasons and more, these weighty, satisfying German overachievers are the best whiskey glasses I’ve ever owned.
Sertodo Essential Copper Mixologist Set
A general rule for bar tools: The more stylish they are, the less functional they’ll be. Notable in this space, then, is Sertodo Copper, for whom that rule is monumentally untrue. Their heavy gauge, pure copper bar tools are hand hammered and arrestingly gorgeous, but they add small professional touches to ensure workability—the tins actually seal, for instance, keeping the cocktail in the tin and off your shirt, and the jigger has discrete inner markings to ensure the perfect pour every time.
Spirited: Cocktails From Around the World by Adrienne Stillman
Adrienne Stillman has collected a survey course of global drinking, a capacious 101 on human liquid enjoyments. Spirited shows an omnivorous appetite in its 600+ recipes, not just for the catalogue of old classics and the newer inventions of contemporary mixologists, but for what is consumed worldwide as well. She includes a recipe for a Calvados & Tonic, for example, not because anyone requires a recipe (the name is the recipe), but because it’s extremely popular in Normandy, France, so it deserves to be noted. As such, Spirited is an almost anthropological study, providing a broader palette of inspiration to anyone searching for what to drink next.
Gold Plated Cocktail Picks
If the recipient of your cocktail has a hard time choosing whether to first taste the drink or photograph it, you know the garnish has done its job. Personally, I don’t want to buy a bunch of different garnish picks for different cocktails, which is why I love these timeless gold-plated picks from Cocktail Kingdom. They’re stylish but not gaudy, exactly the right length (4”), and the color is equally at home holding a Manhattan’s cherry as a Martini’s olive.
Ragproper Dark & Tan Leather Glass Flask
Honestly, flasks are a problem. Steel flasks in particular (which is practically all of them) are hard to clean, easy to overfill, and impossible to sneak into stadiums and concerts because of the metal detectors, which is really where you want a flask in the first place. Glass, as it turns out, handily solves all of these problems, and Ragproper Modern Glass Flasks are now for sale after a hugely successful Kickstarter last year. They come in the cheaper silicon wrap, but my favorite is the Dark and Tan leather—some modern problem solving with a dash of old-school cool.
Bull in China Ice Mallet & Lewis Bag
Crushed ice is an absolute must in classics like the Mai Tai or the Queen’s Park Swizzle. There are a lot of ways to crush ice, but what’s traditional—and also the most fun—is to throw it in a canvas sack called a Lewis Bag and smash it with a giant wooden hammer. And while cheaper hammers work just fine, the beautiful Black Walnut Ice Mallet from Portland’s Bull in China makes banging away on the countertop an elegant experience.
True Cubes Clear Ice Cube Tray: 4 Cube Tray
Putting aside the benefits to your cocktail, of which there are many: there’s no quicker way to impress someone than to serve them a drink on a big, perfectly clear cube. Directional freezing used to be difficult at home, but the last couple of years have brought a small army of products to help. One of the best is the True Cubes 4-Cube Tray: it’s easy, reliable, and crucially, it doesn’t take up an enormous amount of room in your freezer.
Crate&Barrel Vance Decanter
Spirit decanters are awesome. They look great, they feel great, and they make your bar cart seem like the office of some mid-century CEO. The problem with most of them, however, is that they’re made of leaded crystal, which is uniquely ill-suited to hold spirits for an extended period of time, because the spirit absorbs dangerous amounts of lead pretty much right away. Fortunately, beautiful glass decanters are available (and, bonus, considerably less expensive) like this Vance decanter from Crate and Barrel, which looks great with richly aged whiskey and goes well with those Schott Zwiesel glasses I told you to buy.
Bittercube Bitters Variety Pack
We think of bitters as the spice cabinet of drink-making, and just like your actual spice cabinet, most of them rarely, if ever, get used. That’s why this 6-bottle variety pack from Bittercube is so fantastic: Bittercube products are always great, they’re in small bottles good enough for a couple dozen drinks each, and the flavors are appreciably different and useful that it encourages experimentation. Pro-tip: the Jamaican #1 and absinthe go ludicrously well together, and a small dash of Cherry Bark Vanilla to a stirred whiskey drink is quite the thing.